Will asking for 22 spot colors get me run out of the print shop?
April 12, 2008 6:06 PM   Subscribe

HaplessArtistFilter: I have a very particular, somewhat odd project that I'd like to have offset printed. Can anyone tell me a: if I'm communicating what I want correctly, and b: if this is something that any printer would even consider doing? (It's a small run involving 22 individual spot colors)

I have a digital photograph, seen here.

I've taken it into Photoshop and converted it to duotone (black + one color).

I would like to have sets of 22 prints made from that single duotone image. Each of these 22 prints would be identical except for the “background” color, which would be different in each one. Ideally, I would walk into the print shop, photo in hand; they would hand me a Pantone swatch book (or one for some analogous color system), and I would pick out 22 colors similar to those in the original image, and we'd proceed from there.

This a JPEG mockup of what the 22 images might look like.

I know I'd like to have the prints made as near to 12 x 18” as possible, full bleed, on acid-free, uncoated stock (I have no particular sense for weight, but something sufficiently sturdy).

Ideally, there would five sets that I would reserve as prints, and an additional 100 sets (or 200, or 50, or however many—I just don't want to be saddled with hundreds, so as small a run as I can get away with), which I was thinking I would have perfect-bound (self-cover with black text, nothing fancy).

Now, I know that having 22 different spot colors in one project is absurd. But the point of the piece has more to do with the specific process by which the images are made and less with how they look. It's important to me that the plates be identical for all of them (assuming they can't just use a single set of plates and print them in different colors, which would be ideal), so, though I know it would be infinitely more cost-effective, four-color or digital printing is out.

My university printmaking lab is set up for doing positive plate lithography, but, first off, I suck like something terrible at printmaking, and, secondly, I'm really fixed on this color matching system thing, so do-it-yourself routes are not especially attractive.

---
So, question one: does the above make sense? I've never worked with a printer (as I may have inadvertently made obvious, already), so I'm not even sure if I have the terminology down. If there are certain aspects of the project that I've left unclear (or, you know, aspects of the process that I seem to have misunderstood completely), please do let me know. I don't want to look like any more of a ninny than I have to, when it comes time to execute.

Question two: is this something that any printer, anywhere would be at all willing to do? I know the 22-spot-color thing falls outside the realm of “normal,” but I don't know by how much. I sent in an email request for a quote at one company, and I never heard back (leading me to worry that the whole idea sounds even crazier than I'd assumed it did).

And, yeah, any helpful advice at all would be appreciated. For what it's worth, I live in Windsor, Ontario, so if people know of a particularly good place anywhere from Toronto to Cincinnati (where I'll be for most of next month), or anywhere else in North America, I'm all over it.

Oh, and if anyone could give me even a vague idea of what kind of a pricetag I'm should be expecting, I'd appreciate that a great deal (assume and ideal run of either 55 or 105 copies, for a total of 1310 or 2510 pages, including covers). I've been assuming “thousands,” but two-thousand is pretty far removed from five-thousand, which is quite distinct from ten-thousand.

Thanks so much.
posted by wreckingball to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
 
It's important that you understand that spot colors are very, very expensive to print. I was always told to limit them to on a few, five at the very most. I'm not sure how many printers would do this, but the best thing would be to just go in and ask them, if you have any local to your area. I'm not really sure on a pricetag, again, this differs depending on the printer. I would ballpark that you are correct with your "thousands," but beyond that, it wouldn't be responsible of me to give you a figure.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:36 PM on April 12, 2008


Oh, I forgot to add, one of the reasons why spot colors are so expensive is that the printer needs to mix them to match what you want, as opposed to CMYK, which are four color screens (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black,) that make a color.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:41 PM on April 12, 2008


It would be ridiculously, retardedly expensive. It would cost you a grand just for the ink mixing. And if you only want 55 copies, let me tell you that it'd take at least 50 sheets of makeready per color set. At least. Then you'd definitely need 23 plates if you're doing litho. That's another couple hundred bucks. Plate switching, washup . . . I'd say five grand sounds about right. That's two bucks a sheet. And most printers would think it not even worth it for that. You might be better off doing some homemade letterpress thing, and I would be concerned that a very screeny image like the one you linked to would be not ideal for that method.

I know it's important to you that these be printed with spot colors on press, but honestly, no one would care but you. You could do this on a digital CMYK toner-based machine with amazing quality for a hundredth the cost.

Good luck.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:16 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to add, one of the reasons why spot colors are so expensive is that the printer needs to mix them to match what you want, as opposed to CMYK, which are four color screens (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black,) that make a color.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:41 PM on April 12 [+] [!]


True, and it requires additional press runs as well, since 4 color presses are the norm for full color work. I'm not sure of all the math involved with getting your color combinations done, but it sounds like you might have 7 or 8 (or more) press runs. The 22 spot colors, plus the back ground color, plus the black for the duotone = (lemme see) lots!

So, question one: does the above make sense? I think you explained it pretty well, and a good printer should understand what you mean. And will immediately suggest 4-color process instead, and then you will have to explain why you don't want to do it that way.

Question two: is this something that any printer, anywhere would be at all willing to do> Certainly someone would be willing to do it, but it's far out of the norm. And they are not likely to have any samples to show you, beyond regular duotones, so you will have to base your decision on overall quality, I would think.

Oh, and if anyone could give me even a vague idea of what kind of a pricetag I'm should be expecting, I'd appreciate that a great deal (assume and ideal run of either 55 or 105 copies, for a total of 1310 or 2510 pages, including covers). I've been assuming “thousands,” but two-thousand is pretty far removed from five-thousand, which is quite distinct from ten-thousand.

It's been a long time since I did actual offset estimating, so I don't want to guess wrong. But it sounds like you will be using the same plates each time. That may or may not save some setup costs. It also depends on whether they can run all the black at one time, then send those sheets back through for the spot color and background color. Registration can be tricky that way, however. But if that's possible, that would have the lowest number of press runs. 1 run for the black, with 2 sets on a sheet. Then the black can be run back through and the 4 colors of the press can be 2 spot colors and 2 background colors. That would mean 11 more runs. So 1 single-color setup (black) followed by 11 setups of a four color press (44 heads, basically) is the minimum, assuming the black can indeed be run on its own. 45 setups, plus custom mixing of 22 inks. I think you are looking over the $5000 end of the range, and possibly more, based on old figures I have in my head. (Just the "washup" fee on a press head is a minimum of $30 - $50 if my brain is estimating correctly.)

Yeah, pretty pricey. But, yes, it can be done.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:20 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


OC is right on the breakdown of costs close to $5k. That being said, I don't know a printer who would be willing to do this because it would be a major pain. It'll shut down a machine and a few techs for a week. It's just not worth it. Printers, like most professionals, can be bought, so I'd budget more like $10k just to make it worth their time.

Why not screen print them? You could conceivably stick do it with two screens total, although all that washing between colors will probably necessitate a few more re-screens. But not many.

You might also think about hiring an art student. I could imagine a student screen printer taking on this project for a few thousand.
posted by ochenk at 7:30 PM on April 12, 2008


thanks so much for all the input, so far (up to and including the "do it CMYK, you fool" comments).

i knew what i wanted was going to be a pain (and a costly one), but i didn't fully understand the logistical reasons as to why it would be (i knew the ink-mixing would be a task, but knew little else of the printing process). if nothing else, i'll be great deal more comfortable talking to printers, now.

going into this, $7500 had been sort of my upper threshold; it's useful to know that that's, in fact, the kind of range i can be expecting.
posted by wreckingball at 7:54 PM on April 12, 2008


My brother is a printer by trade. I asked him to review your questions and see what he thought.

Here is his response: "A ballpark figure would be about $150 per two-color run, times 22. I don't know how much the perfect binding would cost; probably a dollar or two per book on a small quantity if you can find someone who can do it. You would use the same two plates over and over for the 22 runs, changing the color in the press for each run. And yes, most printers would laugh him out of the shop unless he pays cash up front. Strange project."
posted by netbros at 8:01 PM on April 12, 2008


Awesome that your brother gave an estimate. But it would actually be 3 colors, since there is a background color in addition to the duotone. So, I would guess a ballpark adjustment would be to multiply his figure ($3300 plus binding) by 150% ($4950 plus binding).

If you do go ahead with this, I would at least look at some other binding options. Your sheets are going to be heavy stock, and perfect binding doesn't really allow opening up the book to lay flat. Doing so would make it very likely to break the spine over time and have the book fall apart. There may be some coil binding or other options, but you don't want it to look "office copier" cheap either. I'm not sure what your end use will be, but if it's strictly an art project, there might be some outside-the-box options for binding, where the binding comes becomes part of the aesthetic.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:27 PM on April 12, 2008


ooh, no, i think it's just two colors, unless i'm missing something crucial about the process (and lord knows, that's well within the sphere of possibility). one color, which would be some variation of pink and purple, in most cases (which i was calling the "background color," which may have been misleading or inaccurate), plus black. right?

the binding is totally open, and, indeed, may not even have to happen. i just knew that i couldn't just have five copies made, and i figured i could have a numbered edition of five that would frame and (lord willing) sell for a considerable amount, and the books, which i could sell for something in the $75-100 range to help recoup costs. i could just as easily keep those as un-numbered prints or sets and sell them off piecemeal.

and yes. cash up front. i've never known a fabricator who would accept anything else, unless you were a known entity, and ever then.
posted by wreckingball at 8:38 PM on April 12, 2008


Ah, I see. You are calling the non-black spot-color the background color. Doh! I was picturing the duotone, plus a complementary 3rd color. That makes a difference. The price goes from ridiculously expensive down to merely incredibly expensive.

There are fine-art printers who specialize in this. Many of them use a "proofing press" and do what they call "hand-pulled lithographs." Maybe that's an option.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:00 PM on April 12, 2008


I worked in printing for 11 years and I can say that what you're asking for will be, as others said, very expensive. A lot of it does have to do with all that will need to happen between each run. If all of the inks are K + Pantone, then the press has to be brought down and made ready to run the next color. It's a lot of labor for one print.

That's not to say it isn't done. Certainly it is! Fine Art printers are a good bet, as FS noted. Also: Most larger commercial operations will do poster projects and many of those require special one-offs done that isn't normally done day-to-day. Of course, Annual Reports usually go into special requests. Of course, larger corporations usually have a lot of money to spend on all the printing gadgets that get put into an Annual Report.

I think your best best is probably some kind of combination of all the answers here. Going to a large commercial press is likely to be prohibitively expensive unless they do a lot of Annual Report work and/or Poster work. This would make them used to custom orders like what you're seeking.

A couple of questions come to mind that might help you with a direction:

1. If you can find a Print magazine, perhaps they have some ads in the back for printers that do the type of work you find in Print magazine? (It's a very high-idea graphic design magazine.)

2. Perhaps this would be an application for a digital press? Admittedly, I am not up on this area. When I left printing, most of these were CMYK only, but perhaps Pantones can be loaded into the ink bays? I don't know, but perhaps it's something to look into...

Cheers,

m
posted by tcv at 9:29 PM on April 12, 2008


another former prepress guy chiming in here

yeah, 2 plates is all you need. it could be done on a 1 or 2 color press easily; if you want to make it a real project, buy a used ab dick or other small format 1 or 2 color press.

there's probably pressmen who have one of them in their basement. post on craigs in your area and you may get a response. this is pretty outside the usual, so maybe someone wants to do it just for that reason.

the big expense is going to be ink mixing and even moreso, washup and makereadys.

you could just call Komori and order yourself a 23 color press and do it all in one pass! should cost under 25 million!
posted by KenManiac at 9:21 AM on April 13, 2008


buy a used ab dick or other small format 1 or 2 color press

If you want to learn a really cool skill, and have the time and inclination, this is actually not too bad an idea! A used 1-color AB Dick 360 (11x17 inch) with a chain delivery system can be had for $2000 or less, assuming you don't have to have it shipped. It runs on regular current. You can have a local printer make your plates for you, but you will have to buy inks, cleanup mats, etch solution, and other assorted chemicals. And they are not great with close registration, but if you run enough extra of the first color, you'll have enough to toss out the ones that don't line up.

So, yeah, if you want a hobby in addition to the prints, it could be worth thinking about.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2008


I'm curious: why offset? Is it the color permanency of the inks? Pigment (vs dye) based giclee (inkjet) prints would be far more cost effective and are very popular with the art print crowd.
posted by jdfan at 11:28 AM on April 13, 2008


This job would make my pressman cry.

Along with what everyone else has said, the offset presses that you'd find at any modern print shop are designed to move lots of paper very, very quickly - hundreds of sheets per minute. This isn't really compatible with what you're trying to do. However, lithography or etching might give you the effect you're looking for at a more reasonable price.

Alternately,
My university printmaking lab is set up for doing positive plate lithography, but, first off, I suck like something terrible at printmaking, and, secondly, I'm really fixed on this color matching system thing, so do-it-yourself routes are not especially attractive.

Slip one of the better printmaking students a couple hundred to run this project on the school equipment. Think of it as a prototype to get you ready for the big project. Or ask one of the printmaking faculty for some technical advice on the project.
posted by lekvar at 12:56 PM on April 13, 2008


I don't understand why you don't want to do this digitally. An Epson Stylus 2400 printer can print on 13" x 19" paper. With calibration you should be able to get color reasonably accurate to Pantone specs. The printer will run less than $840 and even with paper and some kind of hardware calibration you would be far ahead on your costs. Epson's Ultrachrome inks are archival and that's a printer that plays well with Photoshop. If you want to print larger and be able to have your results bound you would still come out ahead on costs with a larger format printer. Doing it as offset or screenprinting will be a much bigger, more costly production as others have detailed.
posted by leslies at 6:55 PM on April 13, 2008


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